There are many reasons why, thus far, Thailand has mostly escaped the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are two.
Firstly, because of the pollution that we live with from Chiang Rai up north down to Sungai Kolok down south, we have a habit of wearing masks and have been doing so for years before the virus pandemic reared its ugly head.
Secondly, we wash our hands religiously because, for 800 years, we had always eaten with our fingers. In feudal Siam, peasants ate with five fingers, while the lords and ladies ate with three fingers. In the 1930s, the military dictator, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, told the nation to “civilize up” and use utensils instead; entered the fork and spoon.
But of course, we still often eat with our fingers. There is no greater joy than digging in with all five fingers when you chow down on som tam and sticky rice. Utensils are pretentious, and so is using only three fingers.
Be that as it may, we wear masks and wash our hands, religiously so. Hence, the two most important personal hygiene protections against COVID-19.
Face it; there’s little else that we do that differentiates us from how any other country fights the global pandemic. Lockdown, quarantine, and curfew, everyone does it. We are no different.
Except for one thing: we are not good at critical thinking.
Thailand is governed by the “good people” governance.
We don’t believe in creating an effective checks and balances system to manage a country towards greater glory. Instead, we rely on the fairy tale belief of good versus evil.
Put good people in government, and then there won’t be corruption. Why is there corruption? Because people are evil. We fail to understand that there’s good and evil in everyone. The best way to maximize goodness and minimize evil is to create a system that nurtures good governance and provides checks and balances on corruption and greedy behavior.
Hence, we have a government of “good people” who wore luxury watches from a dead friend, who wanted to cook some rad-nha in Australia, who farms chicken on preserved lands, who hogged face masks during a global pandemic, who fixes a toilet on a VVIP airplane on the price tag of 56 million baht, who bought submarines to patrol the Gulf of Thailand where the water is too shallow for submarines, and so forth.
They do so with impunity because there are no checks and balances other than Deputy Minister Wisanu Krea-ngam going, “It’s okay. Everything is okay.”
Likewise, this is how we combat the COVID-19 pandemic, through the good versus evil people governance.
694 new cases of COVID-19 and counting. How?
The Thai economy and industries need migrant workers. Migrant workers need work. Lives have to move forward and the world has to move on despite COVID-19.
What do we do? Create an effective procedure by collaborating with the industries and the neighboring governments to bring back migrant workers through proper channels and appropriate safety and quarantine measures?
No, we don’t. We went old-school, Thai-style bureaucracy by making things as difficult and tedious as possible, not to mention costly, especially for migrant workers, so that they have to resort to the option that involves “bad behavior,” which is breaking the rules by jumping the border.
Or, you know, create a system so ridiculous that it forces people to slip things “under the table” to officials. Win-win for everyone, Thai style.
So when the pandemic breaks out again because the system doesn’t work and people have to resort to bad behavior, we huff and we puff, we stomp our feet and pull our hair, crying, “Oh, you bad people! You are so naughty! May you be reborn a lizard in your next life!”
But no. They are neither bad nor naughty. Not any more than the rest of us. They are merely doing the best they can to survive and to feed their families.
The fault lies in the way we do things. It’s the banality of our national mindset that operates on the fairy tale of good versus evil, resulting in a childish governing system that has kept our nation in the dark cave of medieval beliefs and feudalistic behaviors.
How are we still nearing the dawn of 2021?
In schools, we don’t teach critical thinking. We teach fairy tales.